WASHINGTON -- Republicans chose Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a fresh new face of the party, to respond to President Barack Obama's State of the Union address on Tuesday.But if the messenger was new, the message Rubio offered was back-to-basics, a recommitment of the party to traditional conservative notions of economic growth.
He argued low taxes, limited regulations and smaller government would free the economy from the shackles of big government he contended Obama offered in his own address.
But the Florida senator focused sharply on how such ideas could boost the middle class and improve the lives of individual people, part of a new Republican effort to more clearly connect their visions with the everyday problems of ordinary Americans.
"Mr. President, I don't oppose your plans because I want to protect the rich," he said. "I oppose your plans because I want to protect my neighbors. Hard working middle class Americans who don't need us to come up with a plan to grow the government."
In Utah, Republican Rep. Rob Bishop said he was dissappointed with the president's address, but found some positive elements.
"While I found the speech to be disappointing, I don't disagree with some of the concepts and proposals President Obama put forth," Bishop said in a release. "I liked the emphasis on families and that the President addressed the need to improve healthcare for our nation's veterans. I was also impressed that the President touched on the fact that the federal government doesn't have to solve every problem."
However, he said in large part, the President was just playing to the crowd, "telling them what they wanted to hear, and missed out on the opportunity to address some of the most immediate crises facing our country."
Bishop said he was particularly disappointed that the President's approach to addressing the looming financial crisis and sequester was to generate more revenue.
"In fact he only brought up the world 'sequester' once, which is surprising given the scale of impact it will have on our country. Instead of introducing a feasible plan to halt sequestration, especially the cuts to national defense, the President is using this financial crisis to raise taxes on hard-working Americans and business in order to generate new revenue," he said. "The harsh arbitrary cuts from sequestration would jeopardize military readiness and fails to account for the cuts already occurring at the Defense Department, which are the main reasons why I opposed the idea of a sequester from its very inception and voted against the bill creating it. In the last election, President Obama he told us that sequestration 'will not happen,' and he should be held accountable to that statement. After all, the idea of a sequester was created by the President and his advisors."
Rubio called for a balanced budget amendment to force Washington to reduce spending and accused Obama of an "obsession" with raising taxes rather than tackling growing deficits through spending cuts or economic growth.
Most Republicans rebuffed the President's call for legislation to implement universal pre-school and a $9-an-hour minimum wage as overly expensive programs. "Another recipe for big government," said Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas.
"It sounded like a Christmas list to me," Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., said. "The question is, how you pay for (pre-school) in every state, how do you pay for $9 an hour?"
Rubio used his speech to offer new conservative ideas on education, part of the GOP's effort to expand the party's focus beyond debt and deficits -- what Jindal recently dismissively dubbed an "obsession with zeroes."
He called expanding private choices for primary school children and new financial aid for non-traditional college and graduate school students. He said too that additional federal lands should be opened to energy exploration and Congress should overhaul the tax code, not to raise new revenue as Obama seeks, but to lower rates.